Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Phyllis Schlafly on Hypergamy

I bet you never thought you'd read that combination of words in a title!  Phyllis Schlafly is an older version of the American conservative female anti-feminists, a type which has more recent examples many of the gals of the Independent Women's Forum.  Schlafly is well known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.  But she also deserves to be well known for preaching to other women about the importance of staying at home and not having a career while making that preaching into a nice career for herself.

Anyway, Schlafly has now opined on the question of the gender gap in earnings, and here's where things get very interesting.  She states:

Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.
While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.
Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.
Obviously, I’m not saying women won’t date or marry a lower-earning men, only that they probably prefer not to. If a higher-earning man is not available, many women are more likely not to marry at all. [...]
The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.

So delicious!  Never mind lesbian women or women who choose not to partner at all, never mind that the pay gap is much smaller in some other countries than in the US, and people still date and marry across the gender divide.  What Schlafly hints at here is the old conservative trade-off between marriage and independence:  Want to get educated and have a career, girl?  Then you will die alone except for those hundreds of cats.

This is a very common anti-feminist meme and it doesn't die even when evidence doesn't support it.

Next that hypergamy bit.  It's probably straight out of evolutionary psychology of a certain type.  The idea is that women "marry up" in terms of resources and that men "marry up" in terms of their female partners' looks, youth and overall fecundity.  This is assumed to be a hard-wired sex difference, created as an evolutionary adaptation during a time when prehistoric humans lived in small extended-kin based nomadic groups.  That nomadic tribes of that type are unlikely to be able to accumulate the kind of male resources the theory stipulates for the adaptation to be selected looks like a major problem to me.  The sexually attractive resources of anyone, whether male or female,  in such groups would most likely be embodied in health, youth and various food-acquisition skills.

The alternative theory is, obviously, that the tendency for women to "marry up" cannot be disentangled from the long history of laws, traditions and norms or from the history of women's lesser access to alternative ways of making a living than through marriage.  In short, hypergamy cannot simply be assumed to be some innate sex difference, as long as cultures organize the resource-accruing activities differently for men and women and when that organizing results in women earning less than men, on average. 

Indeed, if hypergamy is caused by societal rules about women and inheritance, women and paid work and what the proper gender roles should be (with emphasis on a division of labor which leaves women without independent sources of income), then Schlafly's own argument would contribute to it.  Was it taken seriously, that is, as a "simple but profound difference" between the sexes.

For more on how hypergamy looks to be changing when the genders are more equal, see my post here.
Added later:  Given the Ayaan Hirsi Ali honorary doctorate debate (see below), it might be fun for you to know that Phyllis Schlafly was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2008 by Washington University in Saint Louis.  The explanation for that award was:

In bestowing this degree, the University is not endorsing Mrs. Schlafly's views or opinions; rather, it is recognizing an alumna of the University whose life and work have had a broad impact on American life and have sparked widespread debate and controversies that in many cases have helped people better formulate and articulate their own views about the values they hold.[58]